The Four Spiritual Types / Paths

It is basic that you should find joy in whatever spiritual practices you adopt.  If you don’t find joy you will not keep on the journey.  It is also basic that different people are different spiritual types.  So it is important to know your own spiritual type and what nurtures you.

One of the most helpful models for spiritual growth is called the Four Spiritual Types or Paths.  The following is my summary, interpretation and commentary on Corinne Ware’s book, Discover your Spiritual Type: A Guide to Individual and Congregational Growth
(Alban Institute, 1995).  Here is a simplified diagram:

P1010814

The Four Spiritual Styles / Paths

Briefly put, the Head Path involves experiencing God through intellect, reason and beliefs.  The Heart Path involves experiencing God through emotion, warmth and personal relationship.  The Mystic Path involves experiencing God through awe, silence, beauty and mystery.  And the Social Justice Path involves experiencing God through a passion for justice and mission to society.   No single model will say all there is to say, but this model has a lot of wisdom to commend it.   (A similar model is found in the much older teaching of yoga in the Hindu tradition).  I particularly like the concept of wholeness by presenting the four paths or types as four quadrants of a circle.   There is a short survey you can take to determine your primary type, if you do not already know it (The Spirituality Wheel.doc).  Spiritual growth will be a natural development as you do more spiritual activities that suit your type.

But if you overdose on your type of spirituality there is a corresponding danger.  The dangers for each type are rationalism (head), emotionalism (heart), reclusivity (mystic), and moralism (social justice).  The antidote to overdoing it is to grow by exploring the opposite in the circle.  Those in the Head Path benefit spiritually by also exploring the Mystic Way, and vice versa.    Those in the Heart Path benefit spiritually by also exploring the Social Justice Way, and vice versa.   The opposite path in the circle is the next closest to our natural inclination.  However, we should not forget the two other paths, which are important also.  Ultimately wholeness consists of integrating elements from all four ways.  As people develop in these paths and share their giftedness the whole community of faith and society at large will benefit.

This model does not account for the obstacles to spiritual growth thrown up by certain affective states.  Depression, anxiety, obsession, addiction and other mental illnesses will all be blocks to spiritual expression.  It’s hard to know the joy of your spiritual type if you are depressed or overly anxious.  These things will need to be managed by getting counseling and/or psychiatric help.  There is no shame in this.  Mental illness is as common as physical illness, and the good news is that help is available.  You exercise faith and courage when you seek help.  It is not a sign of weakness.

Some of my favorite words of Jesus are from John 15:11 “I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you and your joy may be complete.”  He would often ask people what they wanted him to do for them, showing that he took their heartfelt desires seriously.  The model of the four spiritual paths also takes a person’s desires and joys seriously.  The Four Paths is based on the principle that people naturally lean more towards one of the paths because it brings them joy.

It was a turning point for me when I attended a Shalem Retreat back in 1990 and felt that I had come home (www.shalem.org).   Here for the first time I met people who honored the Mystic Path.  What a treasure it was to spend time in silence and not to be embarrassed.  I had found my path and it brought me much joy.   I pray you will discover your own type and path and you will set aside time to do those things that bring you joy spiritually, for it is God’s way of nurturing you.  Then consider how you might share with others the joy you have found.  When God gives a gift it is not only for our benefit but for others also.  The church will grow as we share our gifts and as we move towards wholeness in Christ.

About John Fisk

I am a retired pastor, who served churches in New England for 33 years. I emigrated to the USA from England in 1974 and completed two graduate degrees in theology and pastoral practice at Andover-NewtonTheological School. In retirement I am focused on the teaching of Christian meditation, providing spiritual guidance, leading retreats and occasional preaching. I am particularly interested in contemplation, the mystical path and social justice.
This entry was posted in Book reviews, Spirituality and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to The Four Spiritual Types / Paths

  1. Carlos says:

    Thank you John! I found your comments very informative and helpful. I also followed your links.
    They are also well chosen and valuable. Shalom, Carlos

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